Christian Porter, the Minister for Social Services, announced the Government’s ‘Investment Approach’ at the National Press Club in September. The approach, adapted from New Zealand and recommended by the McClure Review in 2015, is based on identifying groups who at most at risk of long term welfare dependency, and investing in interventions targeting them.
A key part of this new approach to welfare is the $96 million Try, Test and Learn Fund.
It is troubling that there is so little detail is available about the Fund given it is due to open in early December. Porter’s announcement in September was very light on detail about the Fund itself, and as his media release at the time said – “Government will consult on how the Fund should operate to best encourage innovative proposals from a wide range of stakeholders”.
We are increasingly seeing significant Government announcements, essentially with a footnote saying “details to be provided later”.
The Department has set out a broad framework for the Fund:
- An ideas generation phase seeking ideas for policy proposals through different channels
- An intensive policy co-development phase for a selected shortlist of ideas
- A funding process to seek a provider to deliver ideas.
It is expected that the “co-development phase” will not be attached to any funding, meaning that organisations will be expected to participate in the development of program ideas without any remuneration. Following this phase, the organisation who proposed the idea and workshopped it may not receive any funding to deliver the program as the idea may go out to tender.
The community sector and service providers are being asked by Government to develop program ideas with no remuneration and no guarantee of being granted funding to deliver the program, at a time when money is being stripped from the sector.
Community organisations have a wealth of expertise which will be of great benefit to Government in the development of programs, but this expertise must be recognised and rewarded. Further, this expertise is crucial to the delivery of programs targeted at our most vulnerable community members, particularly where a program seeks to address the needs of a particular group, such as migrants, women, or people with disability. Developing programs and then opening them up to tender may undermine their effectiveness by taking them out of the hands of organisations with particular expertise, and putting them into the hands of large service providers who may not have the experience to address the needs of the target group.
The Try, Test and Learn Fund is the latest example of the Government’s obsession with “innovation”; an obsession which overlooks the incredible innovation already occurring within the community sector.
In many areas, there are existing program models which have been proven to be successful in supporting individuals, increasing their self-reliance and improving wellbeing. Community organisations and service providers need Governments to invest in ongoing funding for these programs, which will ensure their longevity, assist vulnerable communities, and provide certainty for many community sector workers.
The community sector is exhausted by the constant piloting of programs, just long enough for election cycles but not long enough to embed meaningful change.
If the Government wants to effect such change, and reduce long term reliance on welfare, it needs to ensure that programs that have been shown to work continue to be funded. Without such an approach, communities are unable to access important services.
Erin Gillen lives in Canberra and works as a Senior Policy Officer on a broad range of policy issues including social and migration policy. She has a particular interest in policy and practice affecting women. Erin is a member of the Equality Rights Alliance’s Young Women’s Advisory Group. You can follow Erin on twitter: @erincgillen